I stop by Adrian’s farm. He is out and about, as always, this time repairing a dry stone wall. The wall is sturdy, built a century ago. He’s filling the joints with loose gravel, walking on it to test its solidity. He seems content. From the high wall, he waves at me. I take it as an invitation to come forward.
“Give me a hand, will you?” he asks. I look around. There were slabs of limestone in the back of his pickup. “I want to extend the wall a bit, try my hand at dry walling.” I nod, staring at my feet. We start unloading some stones. He is muscular, on a small frame. I am all limbs, a bit uncoordinated, still getting used to the length of them. We work well together, in silence. Once we’re done unloading, he stands there, studying the stones. I move to leave him to it. He looks up.
“Those structures are amazing,” he says. “There is a trick to it.” He’s a gentleman farmer, always trying out techniques. I must admit he fascinates me. I am younger than him, and stronger. I’ve always lived on the land but my father, though ingenious and clever with his hands, does not explore ancient methods. He goes with tried and true, or else explores modern machinery. I learn by watching, and escape to Adrian’s, when I have a chance.
He’s holding a slab in his hands, weighing it carefully. He seems to be communing with it, his movements deliberate as he places one, then another, side by side, methodically. He’s using a wooden mallet to bring them closer, a chisel to make them fit, loose gravel to add friction. I start handing him the next stone I think will work best. Sometimes, he cannot see it, and he looks up with a question in his eyes. I position it as I see it and he grunts his appreciation. The crickets chirp unrelentingly. Finally, he stretches his back, signalling a break.
We walk to a tree, where a thermos and two tumblers await. He smiles shyly. “I was hoping you would drop by. It’s a back-breaking job.” I accept the weak tea in the metal tumbler. It’s icy cold and very sweet. He also has bread and cheese, and tart apples. It feels good to rest and eat in the tree’s shade, legs fully extended on the grass, the muscles suddenly aware that they’ve been straining for the past few hours, surprised and confused by the relief they feel.
He won’t shut up then, tells me that he wants to make an arch, with no mortar, but is a bit concerned about lawsuits. He laughs at his own joke, giddy with the sun. I smile, unaccustomed to such merriment from him. My hands are still feeling the weight of the stones, aching to continue on. There is something deeply satisfying in the technique. I feel as though using mortar is cheating, a shortcut we’re unworthy of. I ask, “Where do you want the arch?” He looks at me funny, and grows serious. “You think we can do it?” I am confused. My old man never seeks my opinion nor my help if he can help it. He never considers me his equal. I clear my throat, try to appear more confident than I feel. With a lowered voice, I say, “Sure.”
After that, we go back to work. We change places and Adrian hands me rocks which I weigh and position. I sometimes shake my head and point to a different stone and he obediently hands me the correct one. I make sound decisions – the new wall is taking shape nicely but we will soon be running out of stones. Adrian explains how to form a corner stone and says he will order more slabs and research how to build an arch. I prepare the corner, carefully chiselling the stone into place.
I dream of stones all night. They speak to me of truth and destiny. They sit tight and comfy, solid in their new homes. My mind is reviewing the moves, becoming more efficient as the night wears on. In the morning, I have decided to become a stonemason. I research it on the computer. You can make a decent living if you’re good at it. I feel I show promise, but need more exposure. I resolve to continue working on the wall, perhaps adding a personal touch here and there. The arch will be my final exam.
Thursday, my chores all done, I stop by Adrian’s again. He’s added large slabs on top of the wall and they’ve held. I am happy to see that. The new section blends in well, as far as the technique goes, though the stones are not weathered. When plants start growing in and around it, it will feel more rounded. “You ordered more stones?” “They will be in by end of week. Do you know of Hadrian’s Wall?” He proceeds to tell me all about the Romans, their history and fortifications. Time flies by, as I help him prune the small orchard on the side of the house.
As I am getting ready to leave, he asks, “What does your father think of you coming here?” I shrug. “I would like to pay you for your work.” I wouldn’t mind a new bike, that’s for sure. “I don’t know about regular hours. I need to help out at home first. Let me see with my da.” I bike home, my head swimming in possibilities as pebbles shoot out from under my threads. Life is good.